At the end of last Christmas, as we bid farewell to our visitors and reluctantly packed away the tinsel, the ornaments, and our treasured nativity sets I vowed—in my typical cynicism—to write an article the following Advent about disappointed expectations.
It seems as though every year my family and I go into the Advent season with magical memories of Christmases long, long ago—the family gathered around a roaring fire, sipping hot chocolate and singing carols; the elegant meals shared with loved ones; the priceless gleam of excitement upon the children’s faces at the sight of festively wrapped packages under the tree. And all of this merriment is always wrapped in the peaceful reminder that Immanuel—“God with us”—has been born into the world and that though evil is closing in all around us, God is still in control.
But when Christmas day arrives it never seems to “feel” the way we’d remembered it. Either it’s too warm outside or we didn’t have enough money to celebrate Christmas the way we’d hoped. We complain that our schedules were so busy that Christmas crept upon us and we weren’t ready. The family wasn’t all together. We didn’t get what we wanted under the tree. The kids were sick. Mass went too long. The music wasn’t quite right. We didn’t get good enough seats and therefore couldn’t see anything that went on during the service. We were too stressed with work to enjoy the festivities. In short, Christmas didn’t meet our great expectations.
It wasn’t until I sat down and put pen to paper that I realized just how appropriate it is to reflect upon expectations during the season of Advent. There were, of course, great expectations amongst the Jewish people for the Advent of the Messiah. It had been long prophesied that through the line of David a king would be born and that through His righteousness justice would reign. This king would free the people from violence, oppression and bondage. All kings and nations would bow down to Him (Psalm 72) and His kingdom would rule forever (2 Samuel 7:16).
Generations after generations hoped to witness the arrival of the Savior King. Some lost hope. But others carried on hoping, expecting, the Lord to fulfill His promise to Israel. And then at long last, a fragile baby was born in a stable full of dirty animals and given a feeding trough for a crib. He looked nothing like any earthly king that had come before him. He possessed no beauty or majesty (Isaiah 53:2). Indeed, He was the complete antithesis of kingliness. Surely, many rejected Him as the Messiah because of this.
But there were humble shepherds in a nearby field who sought Him and upon finding Him worshipped Him as the Savior Christ. Great expectations were placed upon this child as He grew to be a man, and countless people rejected Him because He did not meet all of these expectations. You can hear the members of the Sanhedrin sneering as they spat in His face and struck Him, “Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:68).
Interwoven into the story of the birth of Christ were other great expectations. Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, had once hoped to be a father. But though he and Elizabeth were both “upright in the sight of God” (Luke 1:6), Elizabeth remained barren. We can assume that Zechariah had given up hope because when the angel Gabriel came to him and proclaimed that Elizabeth would bear a son he doubted Gabriel’s words saying, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). In response to his disbelief, Gabriel took Zechariah’s voice away until the day the angel’s words were fulfilled.
I must admit that all too often I am like Zechariah—a skeptic in the face of answered prayer. And as long as I’m being honest I’ll admit that I have even at times accused God of giving me a stone when what I prayed for was bread because God did not meet my shallow, shortsighted expectations. Oh, would that be more like Joseph than Zechariah!
Surely during Joseph’s betrothal to Mary he had certain expectations about his future married life. But when Mary was found to be with child his great expectations were shattered. We all know the story. Joseph planned to quietly divorce Mary, but then an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and explained that the child conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. Joseph was to name the child ‘Jesus’ because He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:18-25). Upon hearing the angel’s word Joseph got up and did exactly what the Lord commanded of him, surrendering his own dreams and expectations to the will of God.
Grant me the courage, Lord, to be like your servants, Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary—who most assuredly had her own expectations—and in response to You simply pray, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke1:38). Give me the strength during this Advent season to surrender all of my hopes and dreams at the cradle of your Son, trusting that Your will for my life far exceeds all of my greatest expectations.
Rebekah Durham Hart is a relatively recent convert to Catholicism. After graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary (a Presbyterian Seminary in Decatur, GA) in 2002 and working within various ministries of the United Methodist Church, she entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2006. She has shared her conversion story with Gus Lloyd on Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel.
Rebekah is currently a stay-at-home mom and, when she is not stepping on her son’s Legos or having tea parties with her two little girls, she blogs at: http://instinctivephilosophies.com/.
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